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Indonesia’s symposium this week to discuss the mass killings that took place during anti-Communist purges in 1965 and 1966 marked an important first step toward national healing. The government of President Joko Widodo deserves praise for its willingness, at last, to confront the past. What needs to follow is a process that will bring the guilty to justice, encourage national reconciliation and ensure that such horrors never again occur.

The anti-Communist purges have been called one of the worst mass atrocities of the 20th century. The Indonesian Army and its civilian death squads slaughtered more than a half million people. As many as 1.7 million more were tortured or sent to camps, some for decades. Anyone who might conceivably have posed a threat to President Suharto — a general who quashed an alleged Communist insurgency and then installed a brutal and corrupt military dictatorship that lasted until he was driven from office in 1998 — was fair game, including intellectuals and ethnic Chinese Indonesians.

In 2012, Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights demanded a criminal investigation into the 1965 and 1966 killings, but the government in power did not act. Mr. Widodo’s government, likewise, is ruling out a criminal inquiry, opting instead for a vague statement of “remorse for past events.” But an expression of remorse is hardly enough to heal the collective trauma that lingers more than a half-century later.

Justice cannot be done without a full accounting of what happened. To that end, the United States, which played a role in identifying supposed Communist sympathizers and in arming the Suharto regime, should also release American records that could shed light on the killings, as it has done with truth-and-reconciliation processes in Latin America. The national commission has asked for these documents and the Widodo government should do the same.

Former political prisoners, people accused of being Communists in 1965 and their descendants face discrimination even today under old presidential decrees that blacklist them as enemies of the state. Mr. Widodo should act as soon as possible to reverse these discriminatory decrees.

Indonesia has made great strides in moving to democracy after decades of dictatorship. To lay a stronger foundation for a prosperous and free future, it needs to shed more light on this dark period of the past.

Source : The New York Times,